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One of the biggest champions of U of M women's sports has died at 94

Kathleen C. Ridder was a namesake of the women's hockey arena at the U of M.

People who knew Kathleen Ridder say she was a gifted athlete – but in the sports world there weren't a whole lot of doors open to women born in the 1920s. Ridder spent the rest of her life opening more opportunities for women – in athletics, politics, and other walks of life. She died this week at age 94, the University of Minnesota says.

In 2002 she dropped the puck at the opening of Ridder Arena, which the U of M says was the first college hockey rink built specifically for a women's team. She and her husband, Robert Ridder Sr., were the major donors for construction of the building, though he did not live to see it finished.

Activism went beyond athletics

Ridder endowed scholarships for female student-athletes, but her philanthropy and activism reached into politics and human rights, as well.

Born in New York, she moved to Minnesota in the 1940s and earned a teaching degree at the U of M campus in Duluth.

Ridder, a Republican, joined forces with Democrat Marlene Johnson and formed the Minnesota Women's Campaign Fund in 1982 to encourage more women to run for office, the Star Tribune reports. Johnson, who became the state's first female lieutenant governor, told the paper Ridder spent decades advancing the role of women in society.

The U of M says Ridder volunteered to serve on various boards and charitable groups, including the Minnesota Board on Human Rights.

Chris Voelz, who was women's athletic director at the U of M from 1988 to 2004, said of Ridder: "Her fierce, relentless pursuit of justice was always an inspiration. She had purposeful passion and acted upon it."

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